Authors: Carol Davis
“Some will say we’re wrong to defy tradition. That it’s foolish to insist on something different.”
Abby sat up slowly and shook out her hair. A tiny flower had gotten tangled in it during their lovemaking, something that seemed magical and wonderful to Aaron, and he touched it with a fingertip lightly and carefully, afraid to knock it loose.
“We could plant our own garden,” she said.
“Yes,” he agreed. “We could.”
“And it doesn’t take that long to get down to your village. If I hurried, I could make it in… I don’t know. Twenty minutes? Half an hour?”
“That may be somewhat optimistic.”
She shifted around and leaned over to kiss him. “Optimism is a good thing,” she said with her eyes closed. “I’m a firm believer in optimism.”
Then, laughing, she climbed over and straddled his lap, pressing her warm, ample breasts against his chest as she went back to kissing him. He had to maneuver a little, and call on some of the wolf’s strength, to rise to his feet with her legs wrapped around him, but once he’d found his balance he was able to stride into the water without losing his footing, laughing when Abby shrieked.
As they’d done the other day, they splashed and tumbled in the water, playing like children, then came together again, kissing, caressing, holding each other so close that the water couldn’t move between them.
“This place,” Abby said close to Aaron’s ear. “This is always going to be our place.”
“Yes,” Aaron promised her. “It is.”
Abby thought about friends and co-workers whose wedding arrangements had taken months, sometimes even a year or more, to put into place, and marveled at how simple this was.
There was no expensive venue to book, no settling for an alternate date because something or someone wasn’t available. There were no invitations to choose and order and mail out. No popular DJ to track down.
And of course there were no papers to sign. There was nothing legal to take care of.
She tried to feel a little bit of regret for missing out on what everyone else went through, but it seemed ridiculous—all that fuss, all that stress. In its place, she had what really mattered: the man she loved, and a warm, sunny summer day that was absolutely glorious.
Aaron’s mother had presented her with the dress she had worn on her own joining day, explaining with tears in her eyes that it had been worn many times before that, and since then. It had been shared throughout the pack, she said, and had absorbed all the joy of those special days to the point that it seemed to have a life of its own.
With trembling fingers Rachel unfolded the cascades of lace and silk, spreading the dress out across her bed.
Abby had expected it to be… well, ugly, something her former co-workers would mock mercilessly.
But Rachel was right. The dress practically glowed in the sunlight. It was beautiful.
“I know I’m not the one you wanted for your son,” Abby tried to say, but Rachel hushed her with a finger pressed to Abby’s lips.
“You’re the one Aaron wants,” she said. “That’s all that matters.”
The only thing that really seemed odd about the dress was that it was incredibly elaborate compared to what everyone in the village normally wore: handmade pants and shirts, some jeans, t-shirts, simple dresses in plain colors. But that made sense too, when Abby thought about it for a minute. The everyday stuff was easy to care for, and this dress was meant to be worn for only a short time, nowhere near the dust and dirt of farming and other chores—a visible sign that this was a special occasion, the most special day of her life.
With warm but trembling hands, Rachel helped Abby put the dress on, and fastened the various hooks and buttons for her. There was no mirror in the room, but Abby could see herself in Rachel’s tear-filled eyes.
“I’ll do my best to be a good daughter,” she whispered.
Her own eyes were misty as she straightened the skirt around her legs. She would have given almost anything for her own mother to be here. They’d played “wedding day” a thousand times when Abby was a little girl, Abby gliding through the house wearing her mother’s veil and a pair of long white gloves they’d found at a yard sale. She remembered her mother clapping and smiling and holding Abby’s small hands so they could dance.
There’d been no mention of a groom back then; he was always a kind of phantom, someone who was there but not there at the same time.
Now he was here.
“Shoo!” Rachel told him with a comical frown, trying to usher him out of the bedroom doorway. “Go away!”
“Not for all the gifts in the world,” Aaron said softly.
The look on his face was something Abby couldn’t remember ever having seen before, from him or anyone else. He looked absolutely awestruck, as if he couldn’t believe his own eyes.
“Do you like it?” Abby ventured.
He was shaking his head as he stepped around his mother. He was wearing a simple, light-colored suit that Abby supposed had also been passed around the pack, since it didn’t quite fit him the way something tailored would have. But somehow, it was the only thing she could imagine him wearing, and in her mind’s eye she saw him stepping out of the shadows of her childhood home, the groom she’d known was there but had never seen.
“Like?” he echoed. “No, this is much more than ‘like’.”
One small thing was missing. Tipping her head, Abby said regretfully, “I don’t have the right shoes. Your mother found some in the storehouse, but they don’t fit.”
“Go without them.”
“I guess I could, but…”
“The ground can be rough and uneven,” Rachel said. “She’s not accustomed to going without shoes.”
“I suppose I’d better remedy that, then,” Aaron agreed.
He disappeared as if someone had blinked him away, and returned a minute later with something wrapped up in a bundle of cloth. Smiling mysteriously, he gestured for Abby to sit down.
When she was seated, he crouched in front of her, and all of a sudden she felt like Cinderella.
Could he possibly have glass slippers for her?
The answer was no. What he did have was a pair of simple shoes made of the softest leather, obviously hand-stitched, created with a great deal of skill and care. In their own way, they were stunningly beautiful, like nothing she had ever seen before.
Gently, Aaron took her right foot in his hand and slid it into one of the shoes, then repeated the process with the other foot.
“These are for today,” he explained. “For special occasions. We’ll find others for you to walk in, and do your work in. As your gift to me,” he added with a note of humor in his voice, “you can throw your old ones away.”
She slid her feet forward to take another look. Then she wiggled her toes a little.
“Do you like them?” he asked.
“I do,” she whispered. “I love them.”
A short while later they were standing outdoors, in a beautiful place among the trees. Mostly white birches, she noticed, which she’d always thought were the prettiest of trees. And there were wildflowers everywhere she looked: blue, yellow, white, pale pink.
The entire pack had gathered there, standing in family groups, in couples, and a few singles, with the littlest children running energetically around, playing hide-and-seek and squealing with delight.
She and Aaron each repeated the words supplied to them by a man she’d been told was the seer, promising to protect and support and cherish each other, to treasure the love and support of the pack, and to carry the line of the wolf forward into the future.
Through all of it, they barely took their eyes off each other, and they never let go of each other’s hands.
Finally, the seer took their clasped hands in his own and blessed their bond.
“Go forward as one,” he told them solemnly.
That seemed to be the signal for everyone else to begin a lot of loud celebration. Cheering, the others surrounded them, swept them out of the clearing, and paraded them through the village, winding around the houses and common buildings, alongside the animal pens and gardens, past a bluff with a spectacular view of the ocean, around and around, until Abby started to feel dizzy.
To her relief, the parade ended just a minute or two later, in a place she could swear had been empty the last time they’d passed it.
Now it was full of tables and benches, the tables all covered with platters of food and baskets of flowers. It looked as stunning as any reception venue she’d ever seen—no, more so, because this was outdoors in the sunlight, with a warm, light breeze blowing through, carrying with it the scent of flowers and pine and the salty tang of the ocean.
She’d had to figure out none of this. She hadn’t done any online searches, interviewed anyone, or struggled through choosing one thing over another.
The pack had done all this
“I hope you’re hungry,” Aaron said with a note of laughter in his voice.
She hadn’t thought she was, but she ate ravenously, trying at least a bite or two of everything that was put in front of her: delicious breads, flavorful meats and stews, delicate cakes… and chocolate.
That, she guessed, was a gift from Katrin.
Around her, she heard gasps and grunts of pleasure, and saw people young and old enjoying the bountiful meal without any attempt at good manners—or the use of cutlery. That startled her at first, then she was tempted to join in and eat everything using her hands, but that would have risked staining her beautiful dress.
Aaron, who once again seemed to know what she was thinking, gave her a sly look and suggested, “Take it off.”
He was serious, she realized, and she wondered with a little bit of horror if that was something brides normally did. She could feel herself going pale, and then Aaron threw back his head and laughed.
“No, no,” he said. “You can run and put on your other clothes. No one expects you to wear the gown all day.”
“I want to.”
He leaned in close and brushed a kiss against her cheek. “You look beautiful in it, and out of it,” he said close to her ear. “You have always been beautiful to me—in your flimsy human dresses, and even in those ridiculous pink shoes. You would look beautiful if you wore
clothes. Or a sack. I’ve never seen you as anything but beautiful, Abby.”
Then he made the kiss a serious one, something that made everyone around them whoop with delight.
The meal went on for quite a while, then someone brought out a fiddle and some drums, and eating turned to dancing. The tables were carried away—off to where they’d originally come from, Abby supposed—and the clearing was filled with twirling, swooping, prancing and swaying.
Singing, too: some on-key voices and some terribly off-key, but it was all wonderful, and the children seemed thrilled with every bit of it.
She saw Aaron’s parents dancing together, with eyes only for each other. She thought she might see Luca dancing with Katrin, but Katrin was dancing with someone Abby didn’t recognize, and Luca was nowhere to be seen—nor were Micah and Daniel. Mason and Jameson were with women Abby assumed were their wives, and Caleb was sitting in a place of honor, overseeing everything.
Granny Sara was standing near the base of a big, towering pine, looking as wistful as Caleb did. When she saw Abby looking at her, she came over and embraced her.
The old woman’s fingers brushed the delicate lace of Abby’s gown in a way that said clearly,
I wore this too.
“Thank you,” Abby said softly.
Sara nodded and patted Abby’s cheek. “Be happy. And come talk with me, will you? I’d like that.”
Moments after Sara had disappeared into the crowd, some of the children began to approach shyly, to touch Abby’s dress and peer up into her face. A few ran up more boldly, poked or pulled at the dress, then ran off, looking over their shoulders as if they wanted Abby to chase them.
One little boy actually sniffed her, frowned up at her curiously, then sniffed some more until Aaron swatted him away.
A minute later, the child was back. “You come from the other world,” he announced.
“The mainland,” Aaron corrected him. “The same world. A different place.”
“The human place.”
And he was gone again, moving so swiftly Abby couldn’t see where he went. She’d have to look out for that one, she told herself; he’d probably pop up when she least expected it, to have another sniff.
Another child, a girl, asked, “Are you a dolphin?”
“Um… no,” Abby said.
“They said you come from Dolphin Cove. I thought you were a dolphin. I love dolphins. I wish you were one.”
Things would get worse, Abby figured. She’d already been grilled by the elders; now she was going to be grilled by the children, and those kinds of questions could be a hundred times more unnerving than anything the adults could come up with. She’d have to find a way to satisfy their curiosity without making them suspicious or afraid of humans—but not too interested in them.
Heaven knew what the elders would say if these kids all went running to the mainland in search of human mates.
She’d bent down to talk to the little girl; now she straightened up to find herself almost face to face with a man who looked to be several years younger than Aaron.
He looked past her at Aaron, who had moved a few steps away to talk to his brother, then returned his attention to Abby. “Are there many there?” he asked so quietly that she almost couldn’t hear him over the noise.
Abby shook her head, not sure what he was asking.
“This… Dolphin Cove,” he said. “Are there many?”
“I—I don’t know.” She stopped to think. She’d been too lost in her own feelings during that weekend at the resort to notice much of what was going on around her, but… yes. Other guests, the front desk staff, the maids, the waitresses in the dining room. There’d been a number of women. “I guess it depends on what you think of as a lot. But sure. There’s quite a few people there, I think. In the summer, at least.”
He seemed to have more questions, but he glanced at Aaron again and shook his head. “Thank you,” he said.
“Sure. You’re welcome.”
He slipped away, and she lost sight of him. When she turned toward Aaron, he was looking into the crowd.
“What did Ethan want?” he asked.
Aaron nodded in the direction the other man had taken.
“Oh, nothing. He asked about Dolphin Cove.”